As the tourists wander among the displays and demonstrations showcasing our Western Heritage, they will no doubt have a chance to see some artists showing off their carving skills. I am always in awe of the creative talent of these people; the chainsaw artists are particularly captivating. It fascinates me to watch one of them take a large piece of wood and, using a chainsaw, gently carve away the outer pieces, the pieces they don’t need, to eventually reveal a spectacular piece of art.
How do they know what to cut away, I often wonder?
My dad was a carver. Although he was skilled with a chainsaw in the woods, this was not his chosen artists tool. He preferred carving using his special knives. Dad wasn’t always an artist. When we were kids and would go camping, he would teach us to whittle away on a small piece of wood. If we were lucky, we would end up with a little wooden whistle; one that actually worked! None of us had any clue there was an artist living inside our dad. In fact, if any of us had dared to show a strong tendency toward a career in any of the arts, we’d have been strongly discouraged. Dad steered us in the direction of ‘real, sensible’ jobs.
Not surprisingly, when my siblings and I are lucky enough to be sitting around a kitchen table visiting together, it’s no wonder we sit as nurses, teachers, police officers and generally sensible, hard workers. We all chose practical, respectable jobs. So, you can imagine our surprise, when in his retirement, our Dad, our Dad who had spent his career at a very sensible shift-working job in the boiler room of a large oil refinery, became a carver; an artist.
His first efforts were good, but by his own admission, not yet great. Year after year he would spend hours each day of the winter in his woodshed, practicing his skill. Small carvings of trolls soon turned into carvings of deer, elk and bears. Eventually he started to create beautiful carvings inside moose antlers.
When I asked Dad how he knew what to do, how to know what to cut away, he’d reply that the object he wanted to create was already perfectly intact inside the wood. All he had to do was to carve away the unnecessary pieces.
Whoa. Who knew? For a man who had little use for philosophy, Dad could certainly be insightful.
This little gem of wisdom applies to people too. Each of us, at our core, is perfectly intact. We have passions and skills. We have dreams, ambitions and aspirations. And yet many of us cannot not find these. Somehow as we have grown up, we have pushed them down, hidden them away and even forgotten about some of them.
To find these bits of ourselves, all we really have to do is to carve away the exterior bits that serve only to stifle some of the best parts we have to offer.
In our lives there is plenty of extra growth covering our path, and there is even some very tough wood concealing our passions and aspirations. Sometimes we have become so busy with our real, sensible jobs and responsibilities we push our dreams aside until they are overgrown and hard to see. Sometimes the voice in our head convinces us that sealing them away with wood might be a good idea.
But once in a while, something happens to remind us of ourselves. Perhaps we see an old picture, or hear a song, or read an article, or meet a person, that cuts through some of the wood and shows us a path forward. A path that allows the best bits of us to shine.
Over the coming week, my most wonderful dancing partners and I will be performing at Rope Square and on the Stampede grounds. I’ll likely pass some of the carvers on the way to our performance area. And I’ll be ever so grateful that one day, about four years ago, I met some dancers in red shirts, who have helped me chip away at my outer layers of wood to uncover my dancing shoes.
My inquiry for you this week is, ‘What’s hidden underneath the wood?’
Elizabeth is a certified, professional Life and Leadership Coach, and the owner of Critchley Coaching. She is the founder and president of the Canadian charity, RDL Building Hope Society. She works with corporations, non-profits and the public sector, providing leadership and personal coaching for individuals and teams. She creates and facilitates custom workshops for all sizes of groups. Contact Elizabeth to learn how to cut through the noise to uncover what is important to you.